SPECIAL REPORT: Inside the Georgia Power Storm Center

Inside the Georgia Power Storm Center

ATLANTA (WTVM) - Many of us take for granted the fact that when we flip a light switch, the power will be there for us.

But in situations like severe weather or other accidents or disasters, we can find ourselves in the dark.

That's when folks with the Georgia Power Storm Center step in to get the lights back on as quickly as possible.

"It's always better to plan for the worst and hope for the best.  So we were looking at the worst case scenario," David Maske, the Distribution Resources and Services Manager for the Georgia Power company tells us.

That's the kind of mentality the folks at the Georgia Power Storm Center have when they approach any power problem.  Whether it's a devastating ice storm, a tornado outbreak, or a hurricane, they are prepared to deal with outages on a big scale.

This was never more evident than a little more than a month ago when Hurricane Matthew brought high winds and heavy rain to eastern parts of Georgia.

"As the storm progressed, we decided, 'where do we put our folks?' we want them close enough to respond in a timely manner, but we don't want anyone in harm's way," Maske said.

Almost a half million people found themselves without power after the storm – no surprise given the damage to the power infrastructure.

"We had over a thousand broken poles.  We had 120 miles of line – of wire – that was down," Maske said.

When you talk about damage on that scale,  it takes an enormous amount of planning to make sure things go smoothly in getting the power turned back on - from damage assessment and support teams to corporate communications, housing, logistics, and manpower units to name a few.

"We have smart boards, regular boards, all the notes," Maske explained. "Everybody trying to keep up with every single aspect of the restoration.  and that's what the main function of this room - of this group - of this storm center is - to take care of the larger picture things so the local groups don't have to."

For more isolated events in the local area, the Georgia Power West Region covers most of our counties.

"Everybody that works at the company has a regular job, and then they have a storm job," explained Robert Watkins, the Storm Affairs Manager of the West Region.

It's all hands on deck when storms or ice threaten our area, and the public sees the results of many hours of preparation and planning in the form of hard-working linemen, hitting the streets after the danger passes.

"When we see storms coming in, that's just one of those things.  We get ready to go to work.  We know we're going to have power outages, and that's what we're here for – to get the power back on," said Brian Bragg, a local lineman with Georgia Power.

Columbus provided them with a big test just a few months ago.

"I'd say here lately, the microburst downtown, that was pretty catastrophic," Brian told us.

Watkins described the damage in our area due to the microburst.

"In that one, we had 35 poles down," Watkins said. "I don't know how many spans of wire we had down, but we had wire down everywhere and we had 45 transformers that were blown."

It was an event that was going to put too much of a strain on the local resources – so the Storm Center in Atlanta was prepared to step in to offer aid.

"We took additional resources from other parts of the state and mobilized them down to Columbus to help with the restoration effort. It was more than what the local resources could handle," Maske told us.

With great coordination at the state level, you could say the response to the microburst was a success.

"We brought in about 300 people to come in and speed up the recovery from that storm, and we had everybody back on that could take power by the next evening," Watkins said of their efforts after the storm.

One of the most important factors in getting the lights back on, is the folks at Georgia Power knowing that they're out in the first place.

"If your power's out, call us. Your phone is tied to the transformer, it's tied to the system, and it lets us know you're out," said Watkins.

Additional resources are available on their website – or app - that will help the public report an outage, or check on the status of one.

In the Storm Center, they have access to other means that help the folks there determine the allocation of resources.  Maske explained things further to us.

"This is an outage map – an 'events by area'. West Region – Columbus area – shows nine customers out," Maske said. "You have four separate events.  Those events could be a squirrel on a line, it can be a pole broken. It can be anything like that."

A brand new social media center in Atlanta will also keep Georgia Power connected with the public across the state twenty four-seven – providing more resources in helping to diagnose power problems - and giving people a way to communicate back with officials here.

There's one other thing Georgia Power officials want everyone to have when the power goes out.

"Patience," Maske said.  "Because we want to get the lights on as quickly as possible, but we want to do it in a safe, methodical manner."

"A lot of times people complain about their lights being out and that type of things, but a lot of times they don't realize the lineman that come in and get their power back on are away from their families, and which their power may be out as well, and a lot of people take that for granted," Bragg added.

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